Summary of Tracing Single-Cell Histories

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Je H. Lee, from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, contextualizes the findings and ramifications of two new studies of DNA mutation rates. One used neuronal precursors and the other used mature neurons. Both concluded that the mutations yield mosaicism – populations of cells in the same brain with slightly different genomes – that might contribute to neurodegeneration. The two studies tackled the technical challenges of sequencing the DNA from a single cell very differently. getAbstract recommends this article to anyone curious about the current limitations and promise of DNA sequencing technology.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why advances in DNA sequencing technology allow scientists to analyze genetic mutations in a single cell;
  • How DNA mutations that occur during embryonic development can affect neural function; and
  • Why DNA mutations that occur later in life may contribute to neurodegeneration.
 

About the Author

Je H. Lee is an assistant professor at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. His lab studies how cells interact with their microenvironment to regulate gene expression during development.

 

Summary

Sequencing the DNA from a single cell is technically difficult.

A DNA mutation in a single individual can, over time, propagate through many people in a given population. Similarly, a mutation in a single cell can propagate through many cells in a given tissue. Since the rate at which DNA accrues mutations is known, tracing a mutation from its cell of origin over the course of a tissue’s development can reveal that mutation’s role in disease progression.


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